After spending two weeks poring over my textbooks, attending office hours and review sessions and completing practice exams, I was determined to get an A on my midterm. However, when taking the exam, the time limit set off alarms in my mind.
I agonized over the answer I put down. Should I trust my gut instinct? Why couldn’t I remember exactly what was said during the lecture? I scribbled my answer down and moved on to other problems. Near the end, I frantically flipped through my exam before changing my answer once more when there was less than a minute left on the clock.
So you can imagine my frustration when I searched up what the correct answer was after I had turned in my exam. It turned out that my initial answer was right all along. By making that split-second decision to change my answer before the timer hit zero, I had cost myself those points. Given that there was no partial credit to be awarded for the exam, I spent the night angry at myself instead of being relieved that the midterm was over.
If I had only left my exam alone. If I had only trusted my gut instinct. If I had only listened to what I knew deep down. These what-if scenarios circled my brain as I imagined the huge consequences of this tiny mistake. I felt as if those weeks of studying and hard work were for nothing, all because of a stupid mistake.
While this isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me, it was the first time it happened since arriving at UC Berkeley. Even the day after, I was still furious at myself, mulling it over, only halfheartedly paying attention to lectures.
The question is, what do I do after that? There was nothing I could do now. I realized that first of all, I was allowed to feel the emotions I needed to feel. Instead of suppressing it and pretending everything was fine, I allowed myself to feel sad. After the initial wave of anger receded, I had a much clearer mind. My mind thought back to the conversation I had with my friend right after the midterm ended. She had found out on our walk back that she, too, had made a careless mistake on a different problem. She felt similarly dejected and angry at herself.
While I wasn’t able to fully absorb the conversation before, after I gave myself some time, I realized something. Everybody makes mistakes. This popular saying that I always found a bit superficial had truth to it. I wasn’t the only one who made a mistake. Everyone around me has or likely will make a careless mistake in the future. If I didn’t judge my friend for doing so, why was I judging myself? Why shouldn’t I give myself credit for what I know I did right?
I made a mistake, plain and simple. Under a ton of pressure, I made a choice in the span of a second with the burden of a ticking clock weighing on my shoulders. Stupid mistakes are inevitable. We spell something incorrectly. We add something incorrectly. We use a formula incorrectly. As much as I wanted to continue to wonder what could be if I stuck with my original answer, I recognized that there really wasn’t anything I could do about it now. It taught me a good lesson to recognize how to factor in time when I was studying. It taught me the importance of double-checking. It taught me how to deal with the frustration that comes after.
I recognize the need to let go. I was not the only one to make a mistake, and I will not be the only one in the future. If I could comfort my friend when she was frustrated over her mistake, I could at least extend the same courtesy to myself.